I expect that any intelligent critic will inquire, "But do you really mean to assert that dangers in mountaineering arise only from superlative difficulty; and that the perfect mountaineer does not run any risks?" I am not prepared to go quite so far as this, although there is only one risk to which the scrambler on the Higher Alps is unavoidably subject, which does not occur to pedestrians in London's streets. This arises from falling rocks, and I shall endeavour, in the course of this volume, to make the reader understand that it is a positive danger, and one against which skill, strength, and courage, are equally unavailing. It occurs at unexpected times, and may occur in almost any place. The critic may retort, "Your admission of this one danger destroys all the rest of the argument." I agree with him that it would do so if it were a grave risk to life. But although it is a real danger, it is not a very serious risk. Not many cases can be quoted of accidents which have happened through falling stones, and I do not know an instance of life having been lost in this way in the High Alps. I suppose, however, few persons will maintain that it is unjustifiable to do anything, for sport or otherwise, so long as any risk is incurred; else it would be unjustifiable to cross Fleet Street at mid-day. If it were one's bounden duty to avoid every risk, we should have to pass our lives indoors. I conceive that the pleasures of mountaineering outweigh the risks arising from this particular cause, and that the practice will not be vetoed on its account. Still, I wish to stamp it as a positive danger, and as one which may imperil the life of the most perfect mountaineer.
There is, then, only one positive danger in mountaineering, and that is little risk. There are, however, numerous negative dangers through which many lose their lives. The words positive and negative are used in the following sense. A positive danger is one which we are powerless to avoid, and a negative danger is one which
- The contrary is the case in regard to the Lower Alps. Amongst others, the case may be mentioned of a lady who (not very long ago) had her skull fractured while sitting at the base of the Mer de Glace.